(Note: These thoughts and other Lax-related news and commentary were included in the December issue of the Lax Newsletter, sent out last week. If you’d like to receive the newsletter, which is mailed to your inbox once every two months, just fill out the form on the Home page.)
“I may be wrong about Pax, but keep feeling that through good poems and pictures, peace can travel.”
–Robert Lax to Thomas Merton, 1953
The image here is from the third issue of Robert Lax’s broadsheet Pax, which he published sporadically between 1956 and 1962, adding three new issues in 1985. I’ve been thinking about Pax in the wake of the American election because Lax’s idea in publishing it was to spread peace by sharing the work of writers and artists. The work didn’t have to be about peace per se; the simple act of making art, Lax thought, is a peaceful–and therefore peacemaking–activity.
I don’t know any more than anyone else what the coming months and years will bring, but I’ve seen the agitation and rancor the election has fostered already. I’ve seen people say on Facebook and elsewhere that everyone should take to the streets or get involved in politics. A former writing student of mine said over tea the other day that she was unsure about writing in these times, worried that writing an essay about something other than current issues might be trivial. I’m pretty sure I know what Lax would have told her: that we need people thinking deeply and imaginatively about life right now; that we need those people to put their observations and intuitions into words and images; that we need books with those words and images in our hands and on our shelves and in our beds at night when we’re prone to worrying about where our world is heading.
When I was on my reading tour for Pure Act, an audience member asked me if Lax was political at all. I said no. But two or three days later, someone who had been at the reading suggested (gently) that I was wrong. Lax’s politics, like Thomas Merton’s, were the politics of peace, this person wrote. And he was right. Pursuing peace through whatever means, even a fragile newsprint broadsheet that few people read, is a political act.
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times.” –Thomas Merton
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” –Thomas Merton
(You’ll find information on all Pax issues, including a list of the poets and poems in each one, here.)